Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Just inside the left entrance to the great Roman Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, beneath the floor, is the old cemetery for the Benedictine monks who once lived in the community there. One of those buried there is Francis Xavier Comaci, a young aboriginal lad who had come the community from New Norcia as a novice. Comaci’s life was a sad one, as he felt the loss of his ancestral life and lands acutely, dying separated from his homeland in 1853, at perhaps 11 years of age.
We have in this one, sad story, a link to the three themes that run through our liturgy today: a Gospel that speaks of missionary discipleship; the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Sunday, and the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Missionary Sisters of Service. Let me say a little about each of these to see how they may speak to us today. Last Sunday was the conclusion of the 5-yearly pilgrimage that all bishops are called to make to Rome, and especially to the tombs of Peter and Paul, and to Peter’s successor, the Pope. It was quite a profound visit for all sorts of reasons, but none or so than the 2.5hrs the Australia bishops got to speed in private conversation with Pope Francis. I can’t go into details, but a key moment of reflection with him was about the circumstances of our aboriginal brothers and sisters.
It was St Pope John Paul who said some 30 years ago that “the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until [the indigenous people of our land] have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.” We have a long way to go in this regard; may our works of faith enable all God’s people fully to contribute to the good of all. Certainly, this work of bringing Christ into the lives of all people, by going out to them, has been at the heart of the apostolic charism of the Missionary Sisters of Service over the past 75 years.
As their mission states: We are a community of women called to be bearers of hope in our world, to bring the Good News of justice, compassion and peace to all creation, that all may be transformed by the power of the Gospel. We have a particular concern for people on the margins, geographically, culturally, spiritually or socially. In quite unique ways – using quite unique modes of transport! – the Missionary Sisters of Service have been the ‘travelling presence’ of Jesus into some of the most far-flung and challenging locations in our country. You, women of God, have gone where others would not, and have brought the joy and care of the Gospel to people who would otherwise have never known of their dignity and worth in Christ Jesus. But this is the call of us all, witnessed to so generously by the Sisters.
For the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the gospel of ‘being sent’, of going out to the highways and byways with a word of the nearness of God’s kingdom, and the peace that it brings. Our ‘going out’ might be to locations as close as our own family’s home, or to our neighbours and friends, but sent we all are, like those 72 sent by Jesus. To be a Christian, to accept the call of discipleship, is to embrace a way of life that is about going out with faith and hope into the lives of those around us with a simple message of gospel mercy and joy.
While the sad story of young Comaci’s short life should be remembered by us all, his is also a pointer to how we might better learn to be sent with Gospel energy – not that we become separated from our homelands, but that we might take Christ into them, to transfigure our locations with his light, and transform our lives with his love and peace.